Most Interesting Races to Watch in Kentucky

The 2022 elections are just weeks away and while the state House and Senate are not in jeopardy of flipping there are some premiere races this cycle, including two judicial seats, and a mayoral race for the state’s largest city.

Louisville Mayor:

Despite a lack of local media coverage, Louisville’s mayoral election is one of the most interesting races of the election season. The historic unpopularity of current term-limited Democratic mayor Greg Fischer is a burden for Democratic nominee Craig Greenberg this election season even as Democrats hold a nearly 156,000-person registration advantage.

Working in Greenberg’s favor is the Dobbs decision from the U.S. Supreme Court which effectively punts the issue of abortion to the state. The Kentucky General Assembly has added a Constitutional Amendment on the ballot which would effectively end abortion access in Kentucky. The ballot provision is expected to draw numerous voters, especially in urban areas that disagree with the Constitutional shift.

Greenberg is an attorney from Louisville who helped start 21c Museum Hotels. He drew international attention in the waning days of the Democratic primary when an activist attempted to assassinate him at his campaign headquarters. Greenberg holds a two-to-one fundraising advantage and is spending big on television and direct mail in the race.

Jeffersontown, Kentucky, Mayor Bill Dieruf is the GOP nominee for the open Louisville mayoral position. Prior to serving as mayor of Jeffersontown, Dieruf owned and operated Dieruf Hardware. Many in Louisville remark on the yard signs supporting Dieruf on the south and eastern portions of Louisville.

This election could rest on minority support in the suburbs and west end of Louisville.

Franklin Co. Circuit Judge:

The premiere judicial race of this campaign season is taking place in Franklin County, where Republicans are hoping they can take out a longtime incumbent in Judge Phillip Shepherd.

This race became political from the jump-off, with Republican Joe Bilby, an attorney with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture filing to challenge Shepherd on the grounds the Franklin Circuit Judge did not follow the law. Shepherd has held the seat since 2006, and as the chief judge, he has ruled in some of the most important cases involving state government from pensions to redistricting.

Many of the cases involving state government end up in Franklin Circuit Court, because of its location in the Commonwealth’s Capital city. The post is nonpartisan, but this race is very much political with Senate President Robert Stivers and his wife co-hosting a fundraiser for Bilby in March.

Circuit court judges serve 8-year terms. This race has brought in record fundraising.

Northern KY Supreme Court Seat

State Rep. Joe Fischer, R-Ft. Thomas, is seeking to unseat incumbent Michelle Keller in the race for the Northern Kentucky Supreme Court district.

Fischer has caught heat for politicizing the nonpartisan election. In April, a campaign conduct group raised concerns that Fischer was running a partisan election. Fischer preemptively sued the Judicial Conduct Commission for taking action against him, according to the Courier-Journal. An outside PAC is dumping $375,000 worth of ads in the race, further politicizing the election.

Top State House Races:

20th House District: It is the battle of the legislators in Bowling Green. Rep. Patti Minter, D-Bowling Green, is defending her seat in the Kentucky General Assembly against Republican Kevin Jackson, a financial consultant for Studle Financial Services. Jackson is a retired educator who serves on the Warren County Board of Education, and Minter is a historian at Western Kentucky University.

The district shifts thanks to redistricting efforts by Republicans, likely making this seat more conservative. Democrats say Minter has been working, and they like her chances to hold onto the seat.

28th House District: Longtime incumbent Rep. Charles Miller, D-Louisville, has a real race for the first time in a long time. Miller has been in office since 1998, and faces Republican Jared Buaman, an improvement manager for a specialty chemical company. Miller is getting hit hard by the GOP in this race via mailers.

33rd House District: Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, is facing a geographic battle against Democratic candidate Kate Turner of Oldham County. Kentucky House Democrats are targeting this seat and attempting to color Nemes as an “extremist Republican” for his position on abortion. Turner is leaning in on abortion access, she recently penned an op-ed over concerns that the state abortion ban would imperil access to IVF.

Nemes has a two-to-one fundraising advantage in the race.

37th House District: Democratic Rep. Jeff Donohue, of Louisville, is fighting to keep control of his seat in the state House after redistricting shifted the south end seat along the Bullitt County line. Donohue has been outraised by political newcomer Emily Callaway. Callaway has been endorsed by the Kentucky FOP, Kentucky Right to Life, and the Kentucky Chamber Political Action Committee.

Donohue has represented the district for the past 10 years. He is endorsed by virtually every union, the AFL CIO, and the Kentucky Realtors PAC.

48th House District: After narrowly losing this Jefferson & Oldham County seat in the 2020 election former Rep. Maria Sorolis is taking on current Republican Rep. Ken Fleming again. Fleming defeated Sorolis by 663 votes out of the nearly 3,700 votes cast.

Fleming has a massive fundraising advantage with nearly six times more money in his campaign account, according to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance records. Fleming and Sorolis met as part of a digital conversation with the candidates hosted by the Prichard Committee earlier this month. That conversation can be viewed at the link.

56th House District: State Rep. Daniel Fister, R-Versailles, has a race that’s within margins against Democratic candidate Grayson Vandergrift, of Midway. An offensive Facebook post from Vandergrift in 2008 recently resurfaced.

65th House District: Northern Kentucky Rep. Charles “Buddy” Wheatley, D-Covington, is seeking to keep his district blue this campaign season. Edgewood family lawyer Stephanie Dietz is lagging in campaign fundraising behind the incumbent. The Cincinnati Enquirer recently profiled this race.

67th House District: Another Democrat is vying for a return trip to Frankfort in Northern Kentucky. Freshman state Rep. Rachel Roberts, D-Newport, is defending her seat against Republican Jerry Gearding in this Campbell County election. The Republican gained attention at the beginning of the year when it was reported by the Enquirer that he has a history of domestic violence arrests.

This seat is a target for Republicans.

69th House District: Republican Steven Doan, an attorney and Erlanger City Councilman, defeated longtime Rep. Adam Koenig in the May primary. He takes on Democratic activist Chris Brown, an Emerge Kentucky graduate. The two butted heads earlier this month as Doan released information regarding reports of assault by Brown. Brown’s campaign fired back alleging Doan had disseminated the personally identifying information of four separate individuals by releasing unredacted police files to the media, which is a class A misdemeanor in Kentucky punishable by 90 days to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $500.

The two campaigns are virtually tied in fundraising in the district which has a long history of Republican representation.

88th House District: Democratic Rep. Cherlynn Stevenson, D-Lexington, has been a target for Republicans since she gained the seat in a nail-biter in 2018. This year the GOP has shifted the district significantly in Fayette County adding in conservative votes from neighboring Scott County. Black Republican Jim Coleman, a former Wall Street executive, is seeking to unseat the incumbent.

Both Democrats and Republicans in Frankfort are rallying support for their candidate ahead of the election, which could be another close race.

93rd House District: This former eastern Kentucky district now finds itself in Fayette County thanks to redistricting. This seat is “open,” with construction business owner Kyle Whalen representing Republicans and activist and Kentucky Kernel, UK’s independent student newspaper, staff writer Lamin Swann representing Democrats.  Sources say this race is fairly evenly split three weeks before the election.

94th House District: Democrats are again playing defense in the eastern Kentucky district of Rep. Angie Hatton, D-Whitesburg. This district was affected by flooding, and Hatton has been active in recovery efforts and made appearances with Gov. Andy Beshear, D-Kentucky, to hand out donations. Republican Jacob Justice, of Elkhorn City, is challenging for the seat. He helps run the family dental practice. The candidates are evenly split in campaign donations.

Senate Races

20th Senate District: This is an open-seat race crafted by Senate Republicans via redistricting. Republican Boone County former lawmaker Gex “Jay” Williams is pitted against former Frankling County Judge Executive Teresa Barton in the district that runs from a portion of Boone County, part of Kenton, and all of Gallatin, Carroll, Owen, and Franklin counties.

The campaign took a nasty swing recently with Barton caught on camera removing Williams yard signs from a business in Frankfort.

24th Senate District: Two women are competing in this open seat race after the retirement of Sen. Wil Schroder at the end of this term. Republican Shelley “Funke” Frommeyer, a certified financial planner from Alexandria, faces Democrat Rene Heinrich, an attorney and a member of the Highland Heights city council. Registration favors Republicans in this district.

26th Senate District: Democratic Sen. Karen Berg, D-Louisville, pulled an upset in the 2020 special election to represent a conservative seat in Jefferson County. This year GOP Metro Councilman James Peden is hoping to end her tenure in Frankfort.